One would think that squeezing in an hour of hardcore spinning at the gym every day would make up for a long day of sitting in front of a computer at work and a few hours of watching TV at home. But doctors are finding that the negative health effects of being deskbound and glued to the sofa for long stretches of the day are such that they override the benefit of daily exercise.

Sitting Yourself Into The Ground

The health consequence of inactivity was particularly evident among postmenopausal women, according to a Cornell University study that spent 12 years following a large, ethnically diverse group. Nutritional scientist, Rebecca Seguin, and colleagues looked at 93,000 postmenopausal American women between the ages of 50 and 79 years and found that those who spend the most time sitting and resting (sleeping excluded) died earlier. This trend held up even when taking into account differences in physical mobility and function, chronic disease status, demographic factors and general fitness. Altogether, it means that a lot of idle time takes a toll even on those who have a consistent exercise regimen.

“The assumption has been that if you’re fit and physically active, that will protect you, even if you spend a huge amount of time sitting each day,” Seguin explained in a press release. “In fact, in doing so you are far less protected from negative health effects of being sedentary than you realize.”

Seguin and colleagues reported their finding in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which concluded that women who have more than 11 hours of sedentary time every day up their risk of premature death by 12 percent in comparison with those who have only four hours or less of inactivity. Specifically, the less active group increased their chances of dying from cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cancer by 13, 27, and 21 percent, respectively.

A sedentary existence can even set your physique back and make it more difficult to make up for it later in life. While hitting the gym and lifting weights certainly makes a positive difference, Seguin’s finding underscores the importance of movement throughout the day. “If you’re in an office, get up and move around frequently,” she said. “If you’re retired and have more idle time, find ways to move around inside and outside the house. Get up between TV programs, take breaks in computer and reading time, and be conscious of interrupting prolonged sedentary time.”

Stand Up For Your Health

The health benefits of simply standing more throughout the day was further established by a recent Kansas State University study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, which looked at almost 200,000 people between the ages of 45 and 106. Sara and Richard Rosenkranz found that standing for most of the day reduces the risk for many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

Sara Rosenkranz explained Kansas State University’s news service that excessive sitting involves minimal muscle contractions. This causes an enzyme molecule called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) to become less active in its role in ensuring fat or triglycerides get used up for energy. "We're basically telling our bodies to shut down the processes that help to stimulate metabolism throughout the day, and that is not good," she said. "Just by breaking up your sedentary time, we can actually upregulate that process in the body."

The study authors identified the challenges of convincing younger, healthier people to be more pre-emptive about their health with regard to aging and chronic disease since it is something that is far removed and in the distant future. They also saw the value of sit/stand desks in schools and offices, which are tables that have tops that can raise to enable work to get done while on your feet.


Rosenkranz R, Duncan M J, Rosenkranz S, et al. Active lifestyles related to excellent self-rated health and quality of life: cross sectional findings from 194,545 participants in The 45 and Up Study. BMC Public Health. 2014.

Seguin S, Buchner D M, Liu J, et al. Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in Older Women: The Women’s Health Initiative. Am J Prev Med. 2014.